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Riley-Tull v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 21, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Represented by counsel, Cassandra D. Riley-Tull ("Plaintiff"), brings this action pursuant to Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 405(g), 1383(c).

II. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on February 26, 2009 due to irritable bowel syndrome ("IBS")[1] and asthma, with an alleged onset date of June 25, 2007. These claims were initially denied on August 29, 2009. T. 57-62.[2] A hearing was then conducted before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on January 26, 2011. T. 25-54. On March 11, 2011, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's claims for DIB benefits on the ground that she was not disabled, and dismissed Plaintiff's claims for SSI benefits because she withdrew that request prior to her hearing. T. 24. The ALJ's determination became the final decision of the Commissioner on June 20, 2011, when the Appeal's Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. T. 1-3. This action followed. Dkt. #1.

Currently pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. ##8, 13. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and Plaintiff's motion is denied.

III. Factual Background

A. Medical Evidence

1. Plaintiff's Health Care Providers

Plaintiff was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 1999 and in 2000 had a bowel obstruction requiring surgery. T. 205.

From September, 1999, through July 2007, and again from September, 2009, through September, 2010, Plaintiff was a patient of gastroenterologist Dr. David Garson. T. 210-14; 265-274; 281-88. As of July 21, 2009, Dr. Garson could not provide a medical opinion regarding Plaintiff's ability to perform work-related activities. T. 212, 214.

Despite Plaintiff's complaints of abdominal pains and loose stools, a colonoscopy dated September 16, 2009 revealed that Plaintiff's colon was unchanged since her last examination five years prior. Dr. Garson opined that Plaintiff's "bowel sounds are probably related to mostly an irritable bowel and lactose intolerance." T. 288.

Dr. Garson examined Plaintiff again on December 3, 2009 based upon Plaintiff's complaints of abdominal pain, loose stools, and heartburn. T. 283. He noted no history of weight loss, fever, chills, or rectal bleeding. Citing the September colonoscopy, Dr. Garson noted superficial erosion at the ileocolic anastomosis, with unremarkable neoterminal ileium and remainder of the colon, and Dr. Garson concluded that Plaintiff's symptoms were likely "functional in origin, " and that Plaintiff acknowledged being under increased personal stress. Id . Plaintiff was then referred for an upper GI series with small bowel follow through to complete her evaluation. T. 282-83.

In March, 2010, Dr. Garson noted that Plaintiff had been doing well on sublingual Hyomax and Colestid and that she reported bowel movements three times per day. T. 272-73. Aside from joint stiffness and environmental allergies, Plaintiff did not have any other physical complaints at that time. T. 273. Dr. Garson noted that, "[s]ince clinically she is doing quite well, I recommend deferring [the small bowel series]" and likewise recommended discontinuing Colestid for diarrhea. T. 272.

Plaintiff underwent an upper GI and small bowel series on September 11, 2010, and met with Dr. Garson to review those results on September 27, 2010. T. 265-66. Plaintiff's results were normal and she had no signs of active Crohn's disease at that time. T. 265.

Plaintiff also saw primary care physician Dr. Pravin Mehta from March 30, 2009 through September, 2010. Dr. Mehta's treatment notes are largely illegible. T. 252-64. Dr. Mehta did complete a treating medical source opinion form, in which he stated that Plaintiff suffered from Crohn's disease and asthma, that she is able to work 4 hours per day, and that she should avoid climbing or bending, should not lift, carry, push, or pull more than ten pounds. T. 250. Plaintiff had no limitations walking, standing, sitting, or traveling, but should avoid high temperatures, skin irritants, dust, odors, and fumes, and required access to a bathroom at all times. T. 250-51.

2. Consultative Examinations

On July 6, 2009, Dr. Kathleen Kelly performed a consultative examination of Plaintiff, noting her history of Crohn's disease and asthma. T. 205. Plaintiff told Dr. Kelly that she cooked, cleaned, performed child care, and bathed/showered daily. T. 206. She reported spending time watching television, listening to the radio, reading, and socializing with friends, and had hobbies. Id . Plaintiff was in no acute distress, had normal gait and stance, could walk on her heels and toes without difficulty, and performed a full squat. T. 207. She used no assistive devices, did not need help changing, or getting on and off the examination table, and could rise from a chair without difficulty. Id.

Dr. Kelly's physical examination of Plaintiff yielded normal results in every area, including ear, nose, and throat, chest and lungs, abdomen, and neurological. T. 206-207.

Regarding Plaintiff's mental health, Dr. Kelly noted that she was dressed appropriately, maintained good eye contact, and appeared oriented in all spheres, with no evidence of hallucinations, delusions, impaired judgment, or significant memory impairment. Plaintiff had suicidal ideation in the past when she had multiple deaths in her family, and because of this Dr. Kelly recommended a psychiatric evaluation. T. 207-08.

Dr. Kelly concluded that Plaintiff should refrain from smoke and respiratory irritants and take breaks from overexertion, and to take "comfort breaks" during flare-ups of Crohn's disease. T. 208. Dr. Kelly noted "no other obvious limitation on today's exam." Id.

Plaintiff also underwent a psychiatric evaluation with Kevin Duffy, Psy. D. on July 27, 2009, which revealed that her affect, mood, and thought processes and associations were all within normal limits. T. 214-16. Plaintiff reported normal sleep, appetite, and no weight fluctuation. T. 215. She denied depressive symptomatology, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, anxiety-related symtomatology, panic symptomatology, manic symptomatology, and thought disorder ...

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